Why Italians Are the Healthiest in the World

In the town of Chiauci, Italy, healthy food is an important part of the culture. Mary Jo DiLonardo

In my parents' hometown of Chiauci, Italy, there are lots of really old people. They walk along the cobblestone streets, greeting neighbors and often stopping to chat over some freshly baked biscotti or a glass of wine. Food is a huge deal in Chiauci, where hours are spent preparing meals and even more time is spent lingering over the food once it's finished. There are piles of pasta with freshly made tomato sauce, heaping piles of vegetables, loads of juicy fruit, platters of cheese, piping hot bread and, of course, gallons of wine.

Chiauci is like all of Italy where food is an important part of culture, and it's that culture that earned the Mediterranean country the top spot as the world's healthiest country according to the Bloomberg Global Health Index. According to the index, a baby born in Italy today can expect to live to be an octogenarian.

Villagers gather for a meal outside in Chiauci
Villagers gather for a meal al fresco in Chiauci. Chiauci nel tempo

The index graded 163 countries based on variables including life expectancy, causes of death and health risks ranging from high blood pressure and tobacco use to malnutrition and the availability of clean water.

Despite a stagnant economy and high youth unemployment, Italians are in better shape than Americans, Canadians and Brits, with lower blood pressure and cholesterol and better mental health. So the stressful things in life don't appear to stress out Italians all that much. The country also has many doctors and a diet rich in vegetables and healthy olive oil.

Iceland, Switzerland, Singapore and Australia rounded out the top five healthiest countries.

Bloomberg Global Health Index top 10 countries
The top 10 healthiest countries and where they are in the world. Bloomberg Global Health Index

The United States ranked at No. 34 on the list with a health grade score of 73.05 out of 100, compared to Italy's grade of 93.11. Obesity rates had a lot to do with the low score, according to Bloomberg, which said the U.S. is one of the world’s heaviest nations.

Here's the rest of the list:

Bloomberg Global Health Index top 50 countries
Top 50 healthiest countries in the world. Bloomberg Global Health Index

As an interesting aside, even though Italians are healthy, they may not be all that happy. In the 2017 World Happiness Report, Italy earned the No. 48 spot out of 155 countries, while the U.S. was No. 14.